In a Facebook post, which Coffey believed to show a wounded World War II soldier firing his gun at the enemy while another soldier carries him to safety, Coffey wrote: "As I see post after post about Bruce Jenner's transition to a woman, and I hear words like, bravery, heroism and courage, just thought I'd remind all of us what real American courage, heroism and bravery looks like!" The post went viral and garnered more than 760,000 shares at the time of publication.
But after the success of his post, Coffey decided to research the source of the image so he could credit the photographer. What he learned shocked him.
The image was created by Mark Hogancamp as part of an exercise to manage his pain after he was nearly beaten to death by five men in 2000 for crossdressing. Hogancamp was subsequently in a coma for nine days and awoke severely brain damaged.
His coping mechanism was the creation an imaginary WWII-themed parallel universe, entitled "Marwencol." Through this, Hogancamp explored "the twin demons of rage and fear," the New York Times reported in 2011. He then became the subject of a documentary named after his fictitious world, which won numerous awards and aired on PBS.
In an act of contrition, Coffey posted a follow-up rescinding the previous day's sentiment and sharing what bravery really means.
The full text read:
This is the photo I shared yesterday in the spirit of spotlighting "true bravery."
This photo that accompanied my words, was chosen from a quick image search. Just wanted something to fit my words. I wanted to find out who the photographer was, so I could credit his work.
In an ironic twist, I have discovered that the photo is part of a documentary created by a man who was beaten nearly to death outside of a bar in 2000. After spending 9 days in a coma, suffering severe brain damage and being unable to walk or talk for a year, he chose to try and cope with his pain from the tragic event, by creating a world of stories and characters and photos set in WWII. The image I chose, was one of those created for an upcoming documentary. Why was he nearly beaten to death by 5 strangers?
Because he was a cross-dresser.
I could have chosen one of hundreds of other photos. But I didn't, I chose this one. Do I think it was an accident? I don't.
What happened to this man was wrong, cruel, and unforgivable.
Hate helps nothing.
Love wounds no one.
and God heals all.
(and irony makes us think)
So while Coffey thought he was posting a photo of soldiers in combat to show the "true meaning of bravery," through an ironic twist of events, Coffey found himself learning the true meaning of bravery.
Shortly after Jenner made her announcement, waves of negative comments appeared online attacking those who labeled her "brave" for making the transition to her true self. However, as Coffey acknowledged in his second post, it's easy to overlook how difficult the lives of transgender people can be and to ignore the discrimination they face is at times both physically and emotionally damaging.
Sometimes the most powerful lessons are the ones we teach ourselves.